Coach Marty Rowe has made a habit of taking his teams to the NAIA Division I Women’s National Basketball Championships. He’s been a head coach for the past 15 years and only two squads have missed making the journey to Jackson or Frankfort, Ky.
His last three teams at Brescia University (Ky.) and all nine of his Lee clubs have qualified. He placed one Brescia team (2004) and one Lee unit (2010) in the Final Four. Rowe would love to see his ladies make a deep run in their final NAIA tourney. Lee begins play in the Gulf South next season and continues its move into the NCAA.
The first Lady Flames team to reach the NAIA nationals came in 1999. Coach Gary Baldwin took his NCCAA national champions to Jackson and they were beaten by Montana State-Northern, 79-58.
Lee’s women returned to the 32-team field in 2005 and liked it so much they decided to make the trek each March. After losing first-round games for three straight years, Rowe’s team got a taste of winning in 2008 when the Lady Flames defeated Rowe’s old school (Brescia) in overtime, 66-60.
In 2009 Lee made the quarterfinals with victories over Evangel (Mo.) and Biola (Calif.), before falling to Oklahoma Baptist.
The 2010 team won over Langston (Okla.), Oklahoma Baptist and Vanguard (Calif.) before being eliminated in the semifinal round by Azusa Pacific (Calif.) by only four points.
Lee’s final appearance in Jackson and first appearance in Frankfort did not go as Rowe had hoped. In 2011 the Lady Flames were losers to Xavier (La.) and last March Biola edged past Lee in the opening round, 69-66.
The 2013 team seems to be peaking at the right time. It will enter the tourney with the SSAC title in hand and several players joining with All-American Hollie German and conference tourney MVP Jenna Adams to share the scoring load. Junior Karley Miller joined German and Adams as members of the six-person all-tournament squad.
But Rowe’s crew will have to defend against an LSU-Shreveport team that brings a 25-5 record into Wednesday’s game. Three of the five defeats have come at the hands of Our Lady of the Lake (Texas) team, including a loss in the Red River Athletic Conference tourney.
The Pilots are paced by Sharde Henry (19 ppg, 7.6 rpg), Jenna Diakos (15.1, 7.1 rpg) and Christy Willis (13.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg). Victoria Smith grabs 8.8 boards per game. Rebounding would appear to be an LSUS strong point.
The Lady Flames were hit by a stomach virus over the weekend, but Rowe says his club has bounced back from the illness.
“Everyone seems to be feeling much better today (Monday) after practice,” he noted. “We had a good practice and everyone's energy seemed to be back.
Rowe said the Frankfort playing facilities “are very nice and much newer facility than (Jackson’s) Oman Arena. We're hoping we get a chance to play here a few days this year and get a better feel for the place.”
The coach says his team kind of likes the early starting time (8:30 EST). “I think the team has embraced the opportunity to open up the tourney; we like the fact that if we can advance we will have an opportunity to scout and prepare for basically two days. A win would advance the Lady Flames to Friday’s second round and a 9 a.m. starting time against the winner of the Carroll (Mont.) and The Master’s (Calif.) game.
The opener will be aired locally on 101.3 FM and around the world on Stretch Internet. The NAIA is also offering pay-for-view streaming. Those interested can go to NAIA.org for more details.